UPDATE: June 6 — Ok I just got back from Tokyo and — no joke — Brooklyn has indeed taken over Japan’s youth and trendy and good looking. I probably spotted “Brooklyn” shirts in a dozen boutiques and another hundred or so caps/shirts on people in the streets during 5 days there. Two photos at end of this post. Back to the original post, dated May 29:
Though LeBron James is likely two to three weeks away from winning his second NBA title in as many years, his decision to take his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010 remains a travesty to me. I’ll explain briefly, first, let’s take a detour.
Brooklyn, for better or worse, has become a “brand” that is synonymous with being cool, hip hop, street, and “swag.” The New York Times has written about the phenomenon of companies and brands around the world using the borough’s name. So did brand marketing company Counsel.
It’s not like you need these stories to tell you about the aura of Brooklyn. Every young, trendy creative type I know, or know of, who live in Brooklyn can’t stop mentioning that they live in Brooklyn (it’s all over their Twitter bio, Facebook statuses, conversations, etc); rappers can’t stop mentioning their Brooklyn roots even if they live in mansions in Beverly Hills; I’ve seen Brooklyn Nets shirt and caps in Hong Kong, usually on really good looking stylish people trying to do the whole street-thing; I’m going to Tokyo — the city with the best, and most legit, hip hop scene in Asia — in a few days and I already know Brooklyn stuff will be all over the trendy streets and boutiques*; I can’t watch Kpop videos without seeing some sort of New York or Brooklyn gear. I bet 70% of these cats in Brooklyn gear in Asia have probably never even stepped foot in the borough.
It’s not hard to see why Brooklyn is so revered. It’s the birthplace of hip hop, the central part of the “street” subculture that has provided the base from which all things “cool” are based. It’s also the birthplace of Michael Jordan, the workplace of Jackie Robinson, and the subject around which the music of legendary rappers like Jay, Biggie, Beastie Boys, Tribe, and Mos Def revolve. Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon and Radio Raheem, respectively with their Brooklyn cap and Bed-Stuy shirt, have become iconic figures in pop culture (how many parodies of this Radio Raheem image have you seen? 2,000? a million?).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the gentrification of Brooklyn has made it safe/affordable for New York City’s young creative types to move to the borough. This has inadvertently spawned the “hipster movement”, and though they are often, unfairly, the target of jokes and mockery, their bohemian charm and creative excellence cannot be denied. So whether you go with “black culture” (hip hop) or “white culture” (hipsters), Brooklyn is happening.
And so, back to LeBron James.
This all started in 2007, when James signed a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers. What he did then was unprecedented in basketball (and perhaps sports and business in general), because James, fully qualified for the full five year maximum money extension, requested the shorter three year contract.
No one had done anything like that before — James had, essentially, asked to be guaranteed less money than what was being offered his way. Like a cute girl asking for a break from longtime boyfriend, James’ signing of the short deal sent a message: I’m leaving my options open. Come flirt with me me, for I love attention.
A few months before that contract signing, Jay-Z became a part owner of the New Jersey Nets, and the first thing he announced was a plan to move the Nets from ghetto, raggedy (but uncool) Newark to ghetto, raggedy (but cool) Brooklyn within four to five years.
People started piecing two and two together: LeBron signed a shorter contract so he could be a free agent around the same time the Nets move to Brooklyn! LeBron is going to Brooklyn!
Other teams, including obviously the New York Knicks, wanted in on the three-year courtship of LeBron, and this led to a surreal scene in which multiple teams essentially gave up their 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons in order to focus on landing James in the summer of 2010.
I thought James was going to the Nets or Knicks for sure. In fact, I dropped “LeBron to Brooklyn Nets!” references all over my Xanga from 2007 to 2010.
We all know how the “Summer of LeBron” played out. James ended up choosing Miami, and he announced his decision on a TV show.
James’ decision to pick Miami — a fluffy vacation city that doesn’t have 1/100th of the culture, legacy, and aura of New York City baffled basketball purists like myself and Bill Simmons.
To people like us — who care (probably too much) about the game of basketball and the NBA and its players, history, and future — had James gone to New York (Nets or Knicks), the city would have came alive. Notice how many stories have been written this year on New York City basketball fans soaking in this successful year. LeBron would have made either team much better. And if he actually turn either the Knicks or the Nets into champions, in New York freaking City? That would have been the biggest basketball story of the decade, perhaps even the generation.
Going away from the basketball perspective and back to this “Brooklyn as a global brand” thing, James in New York, specifically Brooklyn, would have been equally big.
I mean, Brooklyn is already global, but yet, I believe that this Brooklyn phenomenon would be on a whole other level LeBron there.
These Brooklyn Nets, right now, are a mediocre team with a uncharismatic roster. The teams’ three best players, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez are three of the most vanilla stars in sports. And yet Brooklyn caps and shirts are selling. Imagine if the team had a real star. The biggest star.
These Brooklyn Nets were going to be a “thing” regardless if the team was good or not, because Brooklyn the borough has such a strong legacy and is so influential. What a damn shame that James, inarguably the best basketball player alive and arguably the best athlete in all of sports — someone who’s a top three most famous athlete alive — didn’t want to be part of this phenomenon, which would have reached new heights.
When LeBron James announced his decision on The Decision back on that day in 2010, he didn’t just hurt Cleveland, but Brooklyn too.